Performance & drive
What it’s like to drive, and how quiet it is
Most modern performance cars give you some control over settings, but the BMW M3 takes that concept to extremes. Next to the stubby gear selector you’ll find a button that's actually labelled ‘Setup’. Prodding it brings up a list of settings on the infotainment screen, letting you change everything from the sensitivity of the brakes to the loudness of the exhaust.
The sheer number of possible configurations can seem a little overwhelming so it’s handy that BMW includes preset modes that work well straight out of the box. Once you get more familiar with the M3, though, you’ll appreciate being able to fine-tune it for your own tastes. You can leave the steering in its lighter Comfort mode, for example, while having the engine at its most responsive.
With everything in Comfort mode (the most relaxed), the M3 is a surprisingly comfortable and refined daily companion. Its turbocharged six-cylinder engine remains hushed at low revs, and the standard eight-speed automatic gearbox (there’s no manual option) shuffles smoothly through the gears. Thanks to standard adaptive suspension, it floats gently along the ups and downs of a subsiding B-road, only showing a hint of brittleness over sharply calloused sections.
Even in Comfort, body lean is kept in check very well – but if you really want to push on, the firmer Sport setting is better for making the most of country roads. It helps tie the car down, as well as giving the steering a little more heft, so you can gauge your inputs more accurately – but without it feeling unnaturally heavy. The steering itself is a halfway house between the hyper-alert setup of the Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio and the slower but ultimately more feelsome steering in the Mercedes-AMG C63 S.
In other words, it’s a good compromise, and one that allows you to place the car on the road very precisely. That’s handy, because when you deploy all 503bhp the M3 fires you up the road in an almost alarming manner.
On a fairly cold day at our test track, the BMW M4 (essentially the two-door version of the M3) managed to slingshot itself from 0-60mph in just 3.8 seconds – 0.7 seconds quicker than a C63 S in the same conditions. However, BMW’s launch control systems are notoriously temperamental, and when we tried to set a time in the M3, the system refused to initiate the perfect getaway.
Engine noise is also a little disappointing. Sure, it’s loud, bassy and leaves you in no doubt that lots of power is being produced – but it's not the sort of evocative sound you’ll find yourself accelerating hard just to hear, as you would in the V8-powered C63 AMG.
The M3 takes a bit of getting used to before you can really explore its limits through corners. There’s so much front-end grip and rear-end traction, you have to chip away at the limits before you feel truly confident to grab it by the scruff of its neck.
Happily, once you get there, you’ll find the latest M3 more predictable than its predecessor. If the rear wheels do break traction in a corner, the resulting slide is easy to manage. Thanks to a clever 10-stage system, you can fine-tune how much wheel-slip is allowed before the traction control cuts in. This is a big boon over the Giulia Quadrifoglio, in which the traction control is either on or off.
The M3 comes with regular steel brakes as standard. Carbon-ceramic ones are available as part of the (very expensive) M Pro Package. We’ve only sampled the standard brakes, and while they can be a little grabby around town, we found them progressive, consistent and massively powerful during spirited driving. Indeed, the impressive braking of the M3 helped it to get round our test track (a 0.9-mile circuit designed to simulate a fast B-road) quicker than any other performance car we’ve tested. Impressive.
As good as performance cars get, if not quite as plush as...
The Mercedes-AMG C63 offers bags of fun on the road and track...
Staggeringly quick and one of the most visceral and engaging p...
Extremely quick and jolly practical, but there are more thrill...